"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The India Journals, Ch. 12, Kalna and the Missed Mulligan


Ch. 12, Kalna and the Missed Mulligan

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. – Jawaharial Nehru

This is the day I want back, the only one in the entire three-week trip that I’d like a do-over, a mulligan.   I don’t even need the whole day, just the few minutes when opportunity presented and then was lost.  But first….

Morning on the Ganga and the ever-present pall of smoke from coal, wood, and dung fires colors the  sunrise with a deep rosy filter.   Along the river banks, people are bathing and washing clothing.   Children run to the edge and shout to get our attention, then wave with enthusiasm.

These small boats are called naukas.

Nearby, a team of oxen drag a plow through a field, preparing the soil for a new crop.  A group of villagers waits at the top of concrete stairs for the tourists to arrive.

Oxen plowing a field between the mustard crop

We Westerners are shocked at the litter, but the villagers think nothing of it.   They've always lived like that, we're told.   Perhaps their trash eventually rotted away, but with the invention of durable plastic items and foam plates, it's there to stay.

A fisherman tending his traps while women and children bathe in the river.

The intrepid country boat delivers those tourists who then climb aboard bicycle-drawn rickshaws for a ride through town to the Nabakailas Temples, built in 1809.   

Bob sits beside me in the rickshaw.   Note I am carrying the purple bag that's been with me on travels around the world.   I bought it at the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm near Kula, Maui.  Since then, I've sent them photos of me with the bag from wild and weird places.

A rickshaw ride through Kalna.

These temples consist  of an outer ring of 74 temples, an inner ring of 34 temples, separated by gardens.  The total number of 108 temples represents beads in a Hindu mala (rosary).

Each individual temple contains a linga, a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva, with the outer ring alternating black and white marble lingas representing sins and good deeds, and the inner temples having only white lingas.  

The outer ring.  It is here that we remove our shoes and proceed to the inner ring.

The inner ring on the left and the outer ring on the right.

Inside the inner ring of temples.  

Then, in one of those moments of pure serendipity, I turn to photograph the arch through the inner ring, looking towards the outer ring, and this is what happens:

This holy man is as surprised at our presence as I am at his walking into the photo, and stops to look.

I nod at him but receive no recognition.

A black marble linga in an outer ring temple, representing sins.

White marble linga alternate with black ones in the outer ring, while all the lingas in the inner circle are white, representing good deeds.

A devotional candle.

Here he is again.   I pretend to ignore him and to be photographing something close but I am using all the zoom on my camera to get this wonderful photo of him in his lavender robes.   When he gets closer, I nod again, but he does not respond.   I start to wonder if he thinks we are defiling the temples.

Across the dirt road where the men with rickshaws wait for us,  is the large Rajbari complex of temples, each with its own charm, set among beautiful landscaping and gardens.

After passing through the gate in the wall that surrounds the complex, we come first to the Pratapeshwar Temple built in 1849.   Its many terracotta plaques depict themes of Hindu stories and myths, and day to day life in the region.

There he is again.   I am NOT stalking this man, but we make eye contact often.   He never responds to my nods.

Just a few of the terracotta tiles on the temple.

I could have spent hours photographing these tiles.

A black marble linga with marigold and devotional candles burning at right.

Next is the Lalji Temple, built in 1739.   I turn to walk down the path towards this temple, and see this:

Note the modern communications tower amid the antiquity.

"The botanical name of Holy Basil or Tulasi plant is Ocimum sanctum which belongs to Lamiaceae family. It is a typical tropical shrub which is widespread as a cultivated plant. The plant is considered very sacred by the Hindus and it is compulsorily grown in the house of every Hindu family in India. Tulasi has a great significance in the Hindu tradition and the plant is worshiped by the Indian married women in particular for a happy and prosperous married life. In fact, the house in Hindu families remains incomplete without this sacred plant. Holy Basil plant occupies a great place in the Hindu families and is given a godly status and is considered as one of the forms of Lakshmi - the Hindu Goddess of Wealth. The plant which is known as 'Queen of Herbs' has extremely beneficial potential values which makes it an amazing herb."--http://www.indiastudychannel.com/resources/162370-Benefits-growing-Holy-Basil-Tulasi-plant-at-home.aspx

Palanquin at the gate of Lalji temple

Giri Govardhan temple

Giri Govardhan temple

Lalji temple was built in 1739 AD.  It has 25 pinnacles.

Then we arrive at the Krishnachandra Temple, built in 1751

Asif and most of the group stop here as Asif talks about many things.   I have trouble hearing him so, as usual, I wander off a ways and find a set of stone steps with several pairs of shoes at the bottom.  

Asif answering questions.

The shoes identify it as a temple as it is customary to remove one's shoes before entering.  Something is going on in there, and I walk around to the front to see what it is.

Yes, I asked if I could take her photo and she is posing for me.

A woman sees me and beckons for me to enter.   I am soooo tempted, but I give her the “one second” hand sign and retreat to Asif.   He and Joanne try to talk me out of what I want to do.   Asif says they are serving “blessed food” and Joanne says my stomach might not be used to it.   I am well aware of the dangers in eating "street food" but at this point I think that they are serving tea, which has been boiled, and I'm willing to chance it.

I ask if I would be offending any mores and Asif diplomatically says the custom of serving “blessed food” is usually reserved for Hindus, a tradition begun when food was offered to lure people to the temples.   That’s enough for me and I return to the site and decline the woman’s offer.   I motion to ask permission to take her photo and she willingly obliges. 

And those are the few minutes I would like to have back.  As for offending their religion, she invited me to participate and I wish I had.  According to a Hindu website, “Hindus believe that serving food to the poor and needy, to the pious and the religious, and to birds, insects, and animals is a very good karma.”   I will admit, however, that not knowing the proper ceremonial moves also kept me back.

Very soon they finish their duties and start to leave.   I am back with the group where Asif is answering questions.   The woman sees me, and stops nearby, making eye contact.  She seems to want to connect with me, but apparently does not speak English.  Nonetheless, she seems to search me out and I am moved by this.

This appears to be fruit and cucumber.

An opportunity presented; an opportunity lost.  If one invites you and your heart is in the right place, is it offensive to accept?

A few minutes later, we go through the gardens to the rickshaws for our return to the boat.  And just then, camera tucked away, the man in the lavender robes pauses by the gate.   We make eye contact for about the fourth time and this time he RETURNS MY NOD!

Some photos of Kalna.    I apologize for the length of this post, but it was necessary to do justice to Kalna.

I think this is a goat.

Asif and Joanne

The first cat I saw in India.   Altogether, I saw fewer than six.

A bicycle shop and a man hauling many goods for sale on his head.

An elderly woman walks past bicycles, a rickshaw, and a motorcycle.   How many changes has she seen come to India?


These men are loading 180 lbs. bags of rice onto a truck.

Man feeding his goat.   He gave me a big smile after I took this photo.


India in one photo.  The rickshaws drop us off at the river.   I got off on the left, right next to this cow.   You can see how steep the bank is where, down below, women are bathing their children.   The RV Ganges Voyager is anchored in the river.  The guides saw me standing on the edge, photographing the cow, and freaked out.   They hustled me away quickly. I'm not sure if they thought I would fall into the river or if the cow would attack.

The guides "rescued" me from the cow/river/whatever but not before I got this photo of women drying their just-bathed children.


  1. Kalna ... enchanting ... love the people, the children and the adults ... the man loading the 108 lb. sacks of rice with the big smile, the woman offering you food (no, no, no Jeanne, you do NOT eat cucumbers and cut up fruit in India). And, it would likely be a good guess that the man in the lavender robes was as fascinated with you as you were with him. He certainly was NOT avoiding you after that first appearance under the arch! Lovely Kalna... love going on these excursions with you. Patti and Cap

  2. WHEW! .. NOT .. NOT .. NOT too long of a Post .. NOT at all too long! You as a reader .. You as a follower .. are into it .. or you are not into it. IF you are into it .. it is what it is and it certainly is NOT too long ! IF you are not into it .. sigh ..

    Here is my take. It is NOT the fact the tea has been boiled .. it is the container you have to be careful of. YES you are thinking IF the water has been boiled the container is sanitary. NOT necessarily so. YMCA Alan Rimberg got a life threatening case of Cholera from drinking hot boiled tea in an unsafe (Alan found out) vessel.

    You must not .. You can NOT assume anything about the rituals of other societies .. YOU MUST be exceedingly and extremely careful in these matters. I am impressed that .. (1) You asked your guide and (2) you listened to him .

    YOU may be sad .. but I read it you did the correct thing. The language barrier is so formidable .. YES you are reading (you think you are) The Language Of The Heart .. but you must be very careful. The lady was sending great vibes .. but you just do not know what accepting her invitation might entail in her heart and in her mind.

    Lord God I can barely wait for the next post .. TOO LONG .. TOO LONG?? IF someone thinks so .. I say .. GIVE ME A BREAK!!

    With Joy .. Cap in Hong Kong and Patti in Anchorage ..

  3. I agree with Cap. This post is not too long. No way! I enjoyed every bit of it here in my chair with my feet up. Thank you for doing the traveling.

    I know you kick yourself for not accepting the Indian lady's invitation but it seems, according to your guides and to Cap's input, that it may have been a mistake.

    Did they speak of such things in your orientation meetings?

    Looking forward to more,

  4. I'm flooded with so many thoughts and sensations after reading this wonderful post, Jeanne. The tiles: yes, what I would give for a chance to stand, stare, and photograph. The Holy man episode -- unforgettable. I wished you had partaken of the invitation for the food and ritual, too, until I read Cap's sage words, and was awfully glad you didn't. Ultimately, I'm left with a better understanding of just how young our country is. And aren't the Indian people beautiful? Despite the poverty, litter, and inscrutable (to me) ways. Beautiful.

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